Fr. Ismael “Melo” Moreno, S.J., a prominent human rights advocate in Honduras stands at a protest. Photo courtesy of Ignatian Solidarity

Fears for life of Jesuit priest rise after Honduran vote

  • January 11, 2018

Canada’s Jesuits have written their second letter in five months to Canadian government officials asking Ottawa to speak out in defence of a Honduran Jesuit priest whose life is in danger.

Fr. Ismael Moreno, famous throughout the region as “Padre Melo,” has been targeted by allies of President Juan Orlando Hernandez after calling for a vote recount and national dialogue following the president’s re-election.

The attacks on the widely respected pastor and human rights defender, who is the director of Radio Progresso, include an anonymous poster circulating on social media that make him a target by linking him with organized crime.

The Jesuits are also asking Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to join with the Organization of American States in calling for an independent, international investigation into electoral fraud in the Nov. 26 national vote.

On New Year’s Eve, Moreno tweeted, “I’m receiving accusations that put my life at risk.”

Jesuits and their friends hope to join an observer delegation in Honduras at the end of January when Hernandez is to be sworn in for a second term as president.

The Jesuits of Central America have compared threats to Moreno and his Radio Progresso team to a 1977 graffiti campaign that spray painted “Be a patriot — kill a priest” on public buildings throughout El Salvador. The result was the murder of Jesuit martyr Fr. Rutilio Grande and a escalating violence that eventually took the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The Jesuit concern goes beyond the danger to Moreno, said English Canada’s Jesuit superior Fr. Peter Bisson. “We are certainly more aware now of the involvement of Canadian mining companies in human rights and ecological abuses in Central America,” Bisson said in an e-mail.

Canada has a free trade agreement with Honduras and major Canadian investors in Honduras include TSX-listed GoldCorp. Inc. and Gildan Activewear Inc.

With a murder rate above 60 per 100,000, combined with few and random arrests in a deeply divided nation, a social media campaign is enough to get somebody killed in Honduras, said Canadian Jesuits International director Jenny Cafiso.

“They are setting the stage for discrediting them (Radio Progresso staffers) in a way so that if somebody wants to do something to them, then there won’t be a popular protest. So it’s very, very dangerous right now,” Cafiso said.

Cafiso also emphasizes that the Jesuit concern is for more than just the life of one Jesuit, or even the broadcasters he works with. “It’s more serious now in the sense that he (Hernandez) has taken control of power through fraud, there is protest, and that there’s violence against people.” 

Moreno has tweeted that he fears Honduras will become ungovernable if a fraudulent election is allowed to stand.

“The issue is simple. This is not about ideologies or feelings. Here we have unacceptable electoral results. And this is a matter for the country. The government to be established will face a factor of maximum conflict. Find a political solution that avoids ungovernability,” Moreno tweeted in Spanish on New Year’s Day.

Hernandez was declared the winner and recognized by the Trump administration, despite a 36-hour delay in vote counting when opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla opened up a lead, followed by news of an unexplained computer glitch, and then an astonishing turn in the vote favouring Hernandez.

The Organization of American States listed a number of irregularities, including “Deliberate human intrusions in the computer system,” as reasons for doubting the final tally that gave Hernandez 42.95 per cent of the votes versus 41.42 per cent for Nasralla.

Canada can’t just go along with such an iffy election, Cafiso said. “It makes us complicit.”.

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